September 16, 2019

“End to End” Cold Chain Integrity: Critical to Global Food Waste Reduction


“End to End” Cold Chain Integrity: Critical to Global Food Waste Reduction" By Jessica Poliner

In the transport refrigeration industry, we often discuss the importance of cold chain integrity throughout the entire supply system – for food safety and economic reasons, but the elimination of food waste is just as paramount.

Research informs us that more than one billion metric tons of food is lost or wasted annually, never making it from the producer to our kitchen table. Often in emerging markets, produce spoils in fields before harvest or in transportation. Some of it is lost in retail markets before consumers can buy it. Sometimes in developed countries, food is wasted because we serve portion sizes well in excess of reasonable appetites. In reality, we produce enough food globally to feed 10 billion people – everyone today and those expected by 2050. Yet in concentrated areas around the world, hunger runs rampant.

When U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued his Zero Hunger Challenge in 2012, he declared, “In a world of plenty, no one – not a single person – should go hungry,” and he laid out five objectives to achieve his goal. His last objective was to achieve a zero rate of food waste. Nothing is more critical to achieving that objective than ensuring the “end to end” integrity of the cold chain.

I use the term “cold chain” broadly and in the most universal sense: an interwoven supply chain system including marine reefer container refrigeration, truck , and trailer transport refrigeration, warehouse and retail refrigeration, and our home’s kitchen refrigerator. We know cold chain preservation extends from fruit and vegetables to meat and dairy – and even beyond food to pharmaceuticals, blood plasma, and more. Most importantly, we know from research that in parts of the world where the cold chain is well established and maintained, perishable food loss can be as low as two percent. 

Focusing in on Thermo King’s reason for being -- and what it does well, is the minimization of transportation risks to the cold chain. We help ensure that temperature control and safety measures are carried out during the entire transportation process and that the proper transport refrigeration equipment is chosen and utilized. In the global Marine business, one important area that we focus on is vessel to land transportation; we want to ensure temperature control even when the marine reefer container is not operating.

In North America, regulation recommends generator set (genset) usage for container transport, no matter the distance, to ensure preservation of the cold chain. However, there are no such requirements in Europe and elsewhere around the world. As a result, a genset for “short journeys” is typically not used, and the transport travels without temperature control to the next destination. Until legislation or the cargo owner requires it, gensets will not be used and the cold chain will be broken. This is a real concern, particularly thinking about the sweltering summer temperatures experienced this past year in Europe. It is time that we relook at this journey, under the lens of temperature control and ensuring cold chain integrity.

With September recognized as Hunger Action Month in the United States, it is the perfect time to bring this conversation to the forefront and openly discuss what each of us can do to aid the world in feeding itself. Outside of the U.S., I challenge all to think bolder about how to help the world do this. Estimates indicate that the amount of perishable food wasted annually in developing countries would be reduced by more than 200 million tons –approximately 14 percent of their consumption -- by applying the same level of refrigeration used in developed countries.

Helping to preserve the integrity of the cold chain – and the simple use of a genset, is one solution. We need to educate our customers and our governments globally that ensuring temperature control from the vessel to land to the kitchen table is an imperative step to achieving a meaningful reduction in food waste. I believe we can be successful and eventually achieve U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Zero Hunger Challenge. It’s within reach if we work together.

Jessica Poliner 
Vice President & General Manager of Global Marine Rail & Air